Syracuse Post Standard May 1, 2001

Deaf Dalmatian Angus learns to communicate through sign language

Standard Photo by Rachael J Gordon
Laura Girard shares her North Syracuse apartment with
Angus, her 2 1/2-year-old Dalmatian, who was born deaf.
Here, Angus lifts his paw for a treat.
By Christopher F. Aguilar
Contributing writer
Pets born with disabilities can lead fulfilling lives and be a tool in teaching humans to handle diversity and adversity.
Angus. a 2 year-old Dalmatian. was born deaf. He suffers from an affliction that is common in Dalmatians and is caused by the piebald gene.
"The pibald gene gives animals their white color, but in Dalmatians it's the leading cause for deafness." says Laura Girard. 25, Angus' owner. "About 8 percent to 10 percent of Dalmatians are born deaf."
Laura and Angus crossed paths about two years ago when Laura lived in the Thousand Islands and worked at a pet store in Watertown.
"We had a litter of Dalmatian puppies come in to the store, and we noticed that there was one deaf puppy," Girard says. "We couldn't sell him because of his condition. And because of that the veterinarian recommended that we put him to sleep."
Instead of following the veterinarian's advice. Laura decided to adopt the puppy. "I wanted to train him and see if I was successful at it," Girard says. "Plus. I wanted a puppy."
When the puppy was 10 weeks old. Laura brought him to live with her and her father, Larry, a fire chief with the Depauville Fire Department.
Angus, whose name means "unique choice." quickly began to learn tricks. Laura and Larry used sign language to teach Angus his tricks.
"They are an intelligent breed. We have 20 signs for different things," Girard says. Angus learned the basic tricks of sitting, lying down, rolling over and shaking hands, but he also learned the sign language symbols for food, water, walk and outside, says Laura.
Angus was such a good student that Girard's father used him to teach children about fires and fire prevention. He also made him the fire station's unofficial mascot.
"He loves fire trucks," Girard says. "He would participate with the fire station in parades all over the area."
Angus remains the station's mascot even though Laura moved to Syracuse six months ago to become a pre-kindergarten teacher at SonShine Child Care Center in Manlius. "He still goes back home once in a while to visit my dad and the people at thc fire station." she says.
In Syracuse. Angus has been Girard's constant companion, friend and exercise buddy.
"He's a very happy, outgoing dog," she says. "We walk two to three miles a day."
Living with Angus, Girard has learned to express herself in different ways and to be aware of her emotions. "He responds to facial expressions and body language," Girard says. "He is also keen to emotions. If I am in a good mood, he can feel it and be happy, but if I leave. and I am in a bad mood. he will literally trash the apartment while I'm gone."
Angus does have his treats for when he is a good dog. Girard makes him oatmeal cookies and also gives him fruit. And, Angus knows that when Laura shows him the sign language symbol for "I love you." it means he has been a good boy. "For him it's a good-feeling sign," Girard says.
She hopes to put all that she has learned with Angus into a career in animal training. She wants to work with dogs and use sign language to train them better.
Meanwhile, Angus continues to use his training and abilities to set an example. "He's a good education tool for kids, especially teaching kids about disabilities,'' Girard says.